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Wildlife in town: To feed or not to feed?

June 5, 2013

*Stock photo

What started off as a perceived deer problem within the city of Colville had some council members figuratively scratching their heads in confusion as they debated an ordinance that would make feeding wildlife, including waterfowl, illegal within city limits.
Drafted by City Attorney Jean Conger, the ordinance would have established the feeding of wildlife as a Class I civil infraction with the maximum penalty being a $250 ticket. The feeding of “other songbirds” and “other backyard birds” would also be permitted as long as it did not create an unreasonable disturbance affecting the rights of surrounding property owners and renders other persons insecure in the use of their property; does not become an attractant for rodents and other wild animals, and bird feeders must be placed at least five feet above the ground.
“I guess I am just a little confused by this,” said council member Mike Birch. “This no wording as to what the feeding of wild animals means. So if I am growing flowers and the deer come into my yard and eat them, does that mean I am illegally feeding the animals?”
Council member Terry Foster and several other council members also had questions as to how the ordinance could be enforced. If council passed such a law, Colville City Police would be responsible for enforcing it.

How to enforce it?

“Would law enforcement be able to come on private property and check to make sure citizens were following the law?” questioned Foster.
Colville Police Chief Bob Meshishnek said that police are not allowed on private property without a search warrant. He pointed to several examples of how the law could be enforced: if someone was caught in the act of setting out feed for wildlife in their front yard, or if it created enough of a problem that residents called city police and complained about the high traffic of wildlife coming through their neighborhood because of someone setting out feed.
“We don’t have the legal authority, the time, or the man power to go door-to-door checking on people to make sure they are not feeding wildlife,” said Meshishnek. “But if it’s the council’s wish that such an ordinance be put into effect, we (city police) would do our best to enforce it.”
The ordinance also stated that no persona, “shall purposely or knowingly leave or store any refuse, garbage, food product, pet food, forage product or supplement, salt, seed or birdseed, fruit, grain in a manner that would constitute an attractant to any wild animal or waterfowl.”
Conger maintained that the ordinance was just a draft she had put together from pieces of other regulations from cities that closely match Colville for population and urban development. She said that it could be rewritten in a manner that is more conducive to the City of Colville.
Council member Nancy Foll said she wanted to see the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife's policy and/or procedure that would require the city to pass such an ordinance before the department could assist with matters like deer removal within the city.
“We were told, a couple years back when this issue was brought up, that we had to do this (pass an ordinance),” said Foll. “However, despite many attempts to find any proof that we need to do this, I haven’t seen an RCW, a WAC, or any policy that says we have to do so. I want to before we go any further on this.”
The council was polled to determine whether or not they thought it worth the council’s time to pursue an ordinance against feeding wildlife. All voted in favor to continue developing the ordinance, with the exception of Bill Beatty.
It was agreed that Conger would rewrite the ordinance and bring it back to the next council meeting.

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